Accessibility - Building a railway accessible to all
For February’s edition of the Innovation of the Month, we have chosen to look at another critical area for rail, but one which has been a long-running challenge for our industry – accessibility. 

Although there has been a huge amount of investment and progress in this area, it seems there is still plenty of work to do and a need to look at the broader range of accessibility requirements that passengers may need. Indeed, on the age-old issue of step-free access, the Rail Minister recently revealed in a parliamentary question that only around 20% of the UK’s rail stations have step-free access that meets current standards. 

Clearly an innovative approach is required. So this month we take a look at several different approaches from across the industry – including Network Rail’s inclusion strategy, an innovative project led by their R&D team and a proactive approach from the Docklands Light Railway. 
Strong words from Network Rail and 'accessibility hero' Loraine Martins.  

First, we wanted to start this edition looking at some recent words of Network Rail’s inclusion lead, who set out the important case for a new approach and a brief look at what is already being done. On 11 February 2021 RIA held an event on Building Back Better. Amongst the stellar panel was Network Rail Equality and Diversity lead Loraine Martins OBE, whose words resonated strongly. 

Loraine began her presentation by outlining the scale of the challenge for a company the size of Network Rail – with a staggering 41,000 employees, 118,000 contractors, 30,000 bridges, 20,000km of track, 2,500 stations, 800 shops, and 700 tunnels, there needs to be clear thinking on how diversity and accessibility improvements are implemented. Network Rail’s ‘Diversity and Inclusion Strategy’, aims to ensure diversity is a priority right across the organisation and, as she explained, there are a range of important and innovations they are looking at to ensure they consider the needs of passengers. “Access and inclusion is the key to giving a better passenger experience”, she told the event. 
One of these is their Diversity Impact Assessments, to enable Network Rail to understand the needs of disabled passengers. The assessments aim to make them think about the impact of decisions made when improving infrastructure or stations and if provisions can be put in place to minimise disruption to disabled customers, such as closing a lift or escalator.
Underpinning their work to improve station accessibility, Network Rail has set out its Accessible Travel Policy that goes live in April this year and will be available in all stations. The policy outlines requirements for the design of stations, including floor plans and accessible facilities, and what to do when services fail. Ultimately, as Loraine emphasised, it will enable Network Rail to be held to account on the service that disabled passengers can expect to receive.  

In summary, Loraine was unequivocal: “When we get it right for disabled passengers, we get it right for everyone”.
How Network Rail R&D are helping to drive this change. 
Given the sheer number of assets it owns, there is clearly a need for Network Rail to adapt more innovative approaches to improve accessibility. And through their £350million R&D Portfolio, it’s fair to say they are. 

One such innovative approach is their Lifts and Escalators project.
Network Rail is currently sharing live data on the working condition on 1,500 lifts and 300 escalators at almost 500 stations across the UK. The project, first announced in 2020, uses monitoring devices to ‘produce an application programming interface which gives live asset condition to third parties through an open data source’. 

Luke Donaldson, Research and Development Project Manager for Network Rail is clear about the difference the initiative will make, saying: “This is an exciting and innovative research & development project which will have a positive impact on the customer experience, enabling passengers to plan their journey and give them confidence using our network. It will also help us improve the maintenance of the assets and reduce the likelihood of failure in the first place.  Through greater use of technology and remote condition monitoring of our assets, we can leverage the brilliance of our UK based app developers to turn this data into something really useful for our passengers.”

Network Rail will be making the lift and escalator status information directly available for passengers on its own website in Spring 2021.  Working together with the Rail Delivery Group, plans are also in place to incorporate the information into the National Rail Enquiries website.  

Providing this level of real-time data, and at such a large scale, will no doubt help many passengers to plan their journeys better. And, following on from last month’s theme, this will be all the more important to give confidence to rail passengers and transport planners post-Coronavirus. 
DLR doing things differently.
And finally - moving from technology to people - we wanted to highlight some of the great work of that the operator of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), KeolisAmey Docklands (KAD) has been doing to engage with the local community and ensure their services are accessible to all those who want to use them.
Since 2015, the DLR has run its Back on Track scheme to give confidence to passengers who may lack confidence to leave their home and travel on public transport, whether this be due to mental health issues, isolation, loneliness or language barriers. 
According to the company, it aims to provide a social inclusion programme for east London NHS Foundation Trust mental health service users to travel safely on the DLR in partnership with their Community Ambassador team. 

KeolisAmey Docklands proudly points out that they are ‘one of the few transport operators who fund a dedicated Community Mental Health Nurse’. As they explain, the ‘trips are for individuals with the aim of restoring their confidence and enabling individuals to travel confidently and independently on the railway.’ This seems like an excellent initiative to improve accessibility and something which will has become all the more important in light of Coronavirus.
More recently, for World Mental Health Day in October 2020, KAD’s Customer Experience team worked collaboratively with the DLR, the NHS and Youmanity, a charity organisation that celebrates equality, supports social inclusion and promotes human rights by delivering cultural projects. As part of the initiative, poems, short quotes and information boards were exhibited across the DLR network raising awareness to mental health issues. Find out more about their work on World Mental Health Day here or watch a video here

And in another positive story, KeolisAmey Docklands has been engaging with local schools and encouraging them to take part in a competition to promote the importance of wearing face coverings. The winning face mask designs are now showcased at all DLR stations on Ticket Vending Machines, and are also adorned on the DLR mascots, Dave and Doris!  

While this may be on a local level, it is a great example of community engagement from the operator and something which could improve journeys for many people on the wider heavy and light rail network. 

Have your innovation featured!

We hope you enjoyed this Innovation of the Month. We would welcome your feedback, both positive and negative, and are always keen to hear from members who would like us to feature their work. 

March’s edition will build up to RIA’s Innovation Conference.

To submit content, or if you have any feedback, please email alexis.king@riagb.org.uk

Our next innovation event: RIA Innovation Conference 

This year RIA's Innovation Conference will be held virtually for the first time, taking place from 28-30 April 2021. The 3-day event will involve a series of keynote speeches, workshops and networking sessions, as well as a virtual exhibition hall. 
Find out more & register here

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